Saturday, May 05, 2007

Biosphere Reserves in Action: Case Studies of the American Experience

UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere program (MAB), involves interdisciplinary research aiming to improve the relationship of people with their environment globally. Launched in the early 1970s, it studies the ecological, social and economic dimensions of biodiversity loss and the reduction of this loss. It uses its World Network of Biosphere Reserves as vehicles for knowledge-sharing, research and monitoring, education and training, and participatory decision-making.

The United States has participated in the MAB program since its creation. Indeed, the participation in the global network of biosphere reserves continued even when the U.S. states withdrew from UNESCO. Thus Biosphere Reserves in Action: Case Studies of the American Experience by Dean Bibles (Chair of the U.S. National Committee for the Man in the Biosphere Program) was published in 1995. The case studies include biosphere reserves in the Central Californian Coast, the Rocky Mountains, the Sonoran Desert, the New Jersey Pinelands, and the Virginia Coast. The report concludes:
The 12 case studies presented here represent only a few of the possible evolutions of a biosphere reserve in its efforts to reach out to the local and regional community. As you have read, some have had great success, while others consider their successes almost negligible. All document tremendous effort from many people to improve the communication among landowners, land managers, scientists, and any others interested in the health and well-being of the natural and human environment of the biosphere reserve.

U.S. MAB, through its scientific and biosphere reserve directorates, will continue to strive to integrate the best ideals of development, conservation, and scientific investigation. We will continue to learn and create new opportunities for progress toward a sustainable world in the early 21st century.

Great Smoky Mountains
Source: National Park Service

Another paper, by Charles Van Sickle and Robert S. Turner, recounts the history of the Southern Appalachian Man and the Biosphere (SAMAB) Program. The mission of SAMAB is to promote the environmental health and stewardship of natural, economic, and cultural resources in the Southern Appalachians. The concept of a regional biosphere cooperative began in the mid-1970s. By then, three separate Biosphere Reserves within the Southern Appalachian region had been recognized by the MAB Program. These were places that were highly regarded for their special character and were already protected by existing statute or regulation—the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory of the Forest Service, and the Walker Branch Watershed on the Oak Ridge Department of Energy Reservation.

Van Sickle and Turner conclude their conference presentation with the following:
The work of SAMAB continues, and there is much to learn from our experiences. A few observations may be useful to others who might be interested in a similar regional program.

Probably the most valuable contribution of SAMAB so far is that it has provided experience in working together across administrative and political boundaries. At times progress has been slow and difficult. It certainly isn't possible to make all the players happy. But those involved in SAMAB feel strongly that the work that SAMAB is doing is an essential ingredient for environmentally sound economic development and sustainability.......

The real value of a regional cooperative is to approach resource issues from a broad strategic perspective. When it comes to funding and implementation however, it is usually much easier to find support on a more local basis. Agencies want to fund projects. Granting institutions want to know where the money will go. Political leaders want to direct money into specific constituencies. Perhaps a modification of the old political maxim would be appropriate--"all action is local".

Finally, to get back to the theme of this conference, we all know that science is essential for good resource management and planning--science in the form of scientific knowledge and in the form of a scientific approach to decision making. Nevertheless, without an organizational framework to transfer science to application, the potential benefit of science will not be adequately fulfilled. Organizations such as SAMAB are needed to make that happen.
Read a fact sheet on the U.S. biosphere reserves produced by the Congressional Research Service in 1997.

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